Students left feeling ‘defeated’ and ‘unsupported’ after WCDSB cancels prom

By Joe McGinty

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board has made the decision to cancel prom at all five of its high schools for this year's graduating students, leaving parents and students feeling frustrated and forgotten. 

“It's frustrating that these kids who already lost so much due to COVID have to lose another key moment of their high school career,” said Barb Melanson, who has a daughter in Grade 12. “They just held a semi-formal recently where hundreds of kids attended, so I don't understand why they can't put on a prom.”

No student from a Catholic high school in Waterloo region will be able to attend a prom that is organized by the school. This means it would take a group of students to organize, pay and supply everything without the help of the school. 

Melanson's daughter, who attends St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, is part of one of these committees trying to bring a student-led prom for her peers. 

“She is one of eight girls who have been planning this for a few months now. They have learned so much and put so much into this,” added Melanson.

Over the last few weeks the students on the committee have felt unsupported by the school's staff as posters they put up to promote the prom were taken down, Melanson said. Some of them are afraid to speak up and still talk about the event at school, according to Melanson. 

“They just feel defeated and really unsupported. We're not looking for the school to sponsor the prom at this point, but I think this situation could have been handled in a different way to not make the kids feel like they're doing something bad.” 

It has been the practice of the Catholic board to cancel prom the past few years due to the pandemic, but with in-person events coming back, even within the school board, such as semi-formals, assemblies, well-attended sporting events, and graduation, many are confused as to why prom was left off the list. 

“Even the public school boards are hosting prom this year, so why not us,” asked Melanson. 

John Shewchuk, communications for WCDSB said in a statement to CambridgeToday that, “proms at all high schools were discontinued during COVID-19 and have not been resumed at any of WCDSB’s five high schools post-COVID.”

As for the posters in the school, they were removed because in the school board's eyes, the event is unsanctioned and posters promoting the event cannot be posted inside of the school. Shewchuk said this could be a cause for major liability. 

The decision for a Catholic high school to host a prom is an annual debate that has normally seen St. Benedict's vote in favour of, but this year the school is choosing not to host or endorse one that is student-led, added Shewchuk.

The student committee will be putting on the prom with or without school support. They have rented out a hall at Bingemans in Kitchener, hired a DJ and some of the girls have already bought their dresses for the event. All they need to do now is sell the tickets.

“There will be a prom no matter what for these kids, even if no one supports us, there will be one no matter what,” added Melanson.

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